Sound Decision
Utada, the Indigo, angela

by Jonathan Mays,
Some serious credit is due for the folks who said the J-Pop section in iTunes USA was worth watching. They were right, and we're getting very close to an explosion of J-Pop downloads right here in America. Keep following that artist list (that's iTunes->Music Store->Browse->J-Pop) to see who's about to make the leap over here.

Utada: Be My Last —Toshiba EMI (September 28, 2005)

Be My Last is so calm, so reflective that I can't shake the feeling that this would be a perfect way for Utada to close her career. Now, before you have even a chance to misinterpret that, Utada has already written several more songs that will be released over the coming months. But with all the energy she expended on the flawed Exodus album, this single signals a sort of retreat for her, back into the familiar ballads at which she excels.

Did Utada learn anything from Exodus, besides that she has a lot of polishing to do if she wants to make it in the electronica world? Yes, definitely, and you can hear it in this single. One of her last album's strong points was its backbeats, which gave her voice an edge that she didn't have before. And when the backbeat enters 47 seconds into Be My Last, it's pure perfecton. It gives a sense of fear and uncertainty that contrasts with the solo guitar's feeling of comfort and security, which is probably pretty close to how Utada felt when she worked on the song and video in Prague.

Speaking of the video, be sure to catch the preview here. I'm amazed how powerful it is to have Utada watch longingly as someone else sings her song.

The more I think about it, the more I think this is the song of someone at a crossroads, and Utada has many more choices to make and paths to follow before she can even think about calling it a career. All the better for the rest of us.

the Indigo: Best —Geneon

It was a heck of a bold move for Geneon to put a group like the Indigo on a stage as big as Otakon's last month. They're a straight folk group, and aside from singing in Japanese, they don't have the sort of "hook" that nearly all of the Japanese artists who travel stateside do. They're modest, laid back, and not terribly striking the first time you hear them.

But what a good move it was. They sold out of CDs long before the end of the weekend, and with six performances all over the convention center, they attracted reasonable crowds every time.

Of course, if you don't already own Indigo Best, you probably weren't at Otakon, so none of that matters much to you. Should you pick up their US debut album sight unseen? Depends. If you're not a fan of acoustic guitar and quaint coffee shop music, no, this one isn't worth your time. The music is not terribly innovative, so I think you'd just be bored. On the other hand, if you're tired of J-Pop that's loud, obnoxious, loud, high-pitched, and loud, this kind of an album is a godsend. It's about time we had some J-Pop over here that didn't beg you for its undivided attention.

angela: I/O —Geneon

I wasn't very nice to Atsuko and Katsu on the Stellvia soundtrack. Fortunately, they're much better in I/O. You'll be hooked instantly by the introduction, especially when Atsuko swings around loosely syncopated notes and lends the kind of improvisational attitude that served them so well on the streets of Shibuya.

The rest of the songs are hit and miss. Merry-Go-Round is essential if you're an Evangelion fan; it's basically their version of the theme song. Solitude has some interesting... oh, what was that ridiculous label on the flyer I saw at PMX... "Asian flourishes." I think that means they play different intervals than you're used to hearing, but who knows.

Maybe has some cool ideas and makes you wonder whether they should try trance or techno sometime, but it's too disjointed to be much fun. Cheers! really truly sounds like a Morning Musume song, and not in a good way. On the bright side, Shangri-La has a wonderfully ominous harmony that totally makes the track.

The Indigo's weakness is angela's strength; these guys are just... different. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't, but if you're on the fence, take a swing at the curveball.

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